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26 Iyar 5762 - May 8, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
The Proper Preparation for Shavuos

by HaRav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz

This article was prepared based on a shmuess delivered on erev Shavuos 5759 in the Beis Medrash Elyon and kollel Toras Chesed.

"In the third month, after bnei Yisroel left the land of Egypt, on that same day, they came into the Sinai desert. For they departed from Refidim, and came to the Sinai desert, and pitched in the desert; and there Yisroel camped before the mountain" (Shemos 19:1-2). Chazal expound in the Mechilta: "Just as their purpose of coming to the Sinai desert was to receive the Torah, so their purpose of traveling from Refidim was to receive the Torah."

The Netziv (in Ha'ameik Dovor) asks why we need to know why Bnei Yisroel traveled from Refidim. The Netziv answers that the Mechilta is teaching us that the more a person readies himself for kedushah, the more he is actually qualified for it. Bnei Yisroel began, from when they were in Refidim at the outset of their travels, to prepare themselves to receive the Torah so as to be fully prepared when the time came.

Hashem made this yom tov of matan Torah an annual segulah for us. Each person can attain the tremendous gift of receiving the Torah, of being blessed from Hashem with success in Torah study and on this day be granted a spiritual abundance for the whole year. But, as we learn from the Netziv, everything depends on our preparation. The more we prepare ourselves, the more we are able to secure the inspiration emitting from this special time and from the momentous events that occurred.

What preparation can we make? On what should we reflect and by what should we be stimulated at this time?

The Torah commands us: "Only take heed to yourself, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. But teach them to your sons, and your sons' sons--the day you stood before Hashem your Elokim in Chorev . . ." (Devorim 4:9-10). The Ramban (ibid.) explains that the Torah commands us in a mitzvas aseih to remember the ma'amad at Mount Sinai. This mitzvah was not only for the generation that received the Torah. Hashem also commanded all future generations to remember the revelation on Mount Sinai.

But remembering alone is insufficient. After our reflecting we must feel "that [y]our eyes have seen," and it should be an uninterrupted feeling, one of "all the days of your life." Furthermore, we must "teach them [what has happened, to] your sons."

Why is all this necessary? "To remember from where you received the mitzvos" (Ramban, ibid.). We must understand fully what Torah is and what mitzvos are. We must realize that Torah is a hidden treasure from Heaven and before it was given, HaKodosh Boruch Hu "entertained" Himself with it each day. Because of Hashem's tremendous goodness and kindness He gave this present to Klal Yisroel.

We must always remember that when Hashem gave us the Torah He revealed Himself to us and opened all seven firmaments to show Yisroel that no power exists other than Hashem.

The kings in Canaan were struck with fear after the ma'amad at Mt. Sinai. Chazal write that they were overwhelmed when they saw the change that had taken place in the creation. They were witness to the silence that prevailed all over the world and noted that even birds did not chirp. Only the voice of Hashem became increasingly stronger, and Moshe spoke and Elokim answered him loudly. The kings went to Bilaam to ask what had happened. Perhaps another flood was overtaking the world?

This all happened because of the monumental importance of giving this treasure to am Yisroel.

Our Torah study and mitzvah performance take on a different sense when we fully realize and feel the Torah's immense value. We sever ourselves completely from material matters and desires, and live in a Gan Eden of Torah. In studying Torah we cling to Hashem: the Torah, HaKodosh Boruch Hu, and Yisroel are one. Clinging to Hashem is the aim of this mitzvah of remembering the ma'amad on Mount Sinai.

"Moshe said to the people, Fear not for Hashem is coming to test you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that you sin not" (Shemos 20:17). The Ramban writes: "It is possible that the posuk means that since you live with emunah, Elokim draws near. Since He has revealed His Shechinoh to you, emunah enters your hearts and you cling to Him and your souls never separate from that emunah."

The Torah's main merit is helping us to cling to Hashem. However, sometimes we see people on whom the Torah they study appears to make no impression. There is no discernible difference between them and other people. Where is the Torah's influence on their nefesh?

It is evident that not everyone studying Torah is zocheh to such character changes. Only study in the manner we mentioned, breaking away from Olam Hazeh, where studying Torah and laboring in Torah becomes the entire aim, changes the nefesh.

Chazal (Shabbos 88b) teach us, "The Torah is a elixir of life for those engaging in it with all their might and delve into its secret like the use of the right hand to a right handed person" (see Rashi). They are totally immersed in the sugya they are studying and they exert themselves to understand its every detail. They must know how the Ramban, how the Rashbo will explain the gemora. After such study they are truly privileged to "know its secret" and with their tremendous efforts they are zocheh to an immense light of revelation with which they can understand the depth in their studies.

This is how Torah should be studied and this is the only way we can acquire the segulah of the Torah, to make an indelible impression on our neshomoh and to obtain the desired level of clinging to Hashem.

The Ramban continues to teach us another matter that we must learn in this mitzvah of remembering the ma'amad on Mount Sinai. "`That his fear may be before your faces' when you see that only He is Elokim in heaven and earth, and you will greatly fear Him." Standing near Mount Sinai had yet another aim: implanting yirah within the soul of bnei Yisroel. Perfection is dependent mainly upon the Torah being studied with yiras Shomayim.

"He shall be the emunah of your times, a strength of salvation, wisdom and knowledge, the fear of Hashem is his treasure" (Yeshaya 33:6). Chazal (Shabbos 31a) write: "`Emunah' is seder Zeroim, `your times' is seder Mo'ed . . . and nonetheless, only if `fear of Hashem is his treasure.' This can be compared to a man who asked a shaliach to bring up a kur of wheat to the attic. The shaliach brought it up. He asked him: `Did you mix in a kav of chumtin? The shaliach answered: `No.' He said to him: `If so, it would have been preferable not to have brought it up at all.'"

Chazal are talking about someone knowledgeable in all parts of the Torah. Understanding Torah means, according to Chazal, knowing well all the six sedorim of Shas. Nonetheless, if a person lacks yiras Shomayim he lacks in his knowledge of Torah too, and what he knows is worthless -- "It would have been preferable not to have brought it up at all." Any success in Torah study, any segulah in the Torah, is only for one who blends in a kav of yiras Shomayim.

The Midrash Tanchuma (parshah 58) writes that HaKodosh Boruch Hu signed a pact with Yisroel only because of the Oral Torah "that is difficult to study and involves much suffering . . . with many details that require care in minor and major mitzvos, and is as strong as death and its jealousy is as great as the abyss. Only someone who loves HaKodosh Boruch Hu with his whole heart, soul, and might studies it . . . since anyone who loves wealth and pleasures cannot study the Oral Torah . . . that involves much suffering and lack of sleep. You will not find the Oral Torah attached to a person who seeks the pleasures of this world, who desires honor or glory."

Chazal are teaching us the above principles: To be zocheh to the segulos of the Torah we must distance ourselves from Olam Hazeh, to have nothing to do with material desires and to be repulsed by honor, to flee from distinction, to completely subjugate ourselves to toiling in Torah and desire to understand what Hashem is teaching us. To succeed in Torah we also need yiras Shomayim and love of Hashem with all our heart, soul and might, without which a person's study is incomplete.

The Rambam (end of Hilchos Me'ilah) writes: "It is proper for a person to reflect on the mishpotim of the Torah and to understand them to the best of his ability. Something he cannot understand or find a reason for should not be disregarded . . . He should not consider it to be like material matters."

When one studies Torah and does mitzvos, he must value the knowledge he learns since he must realize it comes from Hashem. This is the foundation of our need to remember the revelation on Mount Sinai, as we cited from the Ramban. We must remember Who commanded us to keep these mitzvos, we must remember that everything is a decree from Above, and we should not take into consideration our own interests. We should study Torah for the sake of Torah. [This is the level of Torah study for its own sake. As the Rosh explains in Nedorim (62): we must study and feel as though we are now being commanded from Hashem's mouth, as it were.]


There is another important reason to remember the revelation on Mount Sinai. The Rambam in his Igeres Teiman strengthened the hearts of our brethren during the shmad decree in their land: "Remember the revelation at Mount Sinai that HaKodosh Boruch Hu commanded us always to remember, warned us not to forget, and instructed us to teach it to our children so they will grow up studying it. This is what the Torah writes: `Only take heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. But teach them to your sons and your sons' sons the day that you stood before Hashem your Elokim in Chorev" (Devorim 4:9).

"Brothers! It is proper for you to raise your sons in the knowledge of that great revelation, and to inform others publicly of its greatness and splendor and that it was greater than any event, since that knowledge is the foundation on which emunah is dependent . . . and this will strengthen the emunah . . . to guard you so that you will not slip from [our faith] when wrath or shmad is renewed, chas vesholom, on the Jews, or when the ruffians get stronger . . . since it is written `For Elokim has come to test you' (Shemos 20:17). Hashem revealed Himself like He did so that you will withstand any temptation that you will encounter [even] in the end of days."

The words of the Rambam illuminate for us the darkness of the period in which we live, and the ruffians -- the reshoim among the Jews -- have become strengthened in our days, and decrees of shmad renew themselves daily with the aim of uprooting the foundations of Torah and emunah from our heart, and of generally annulling Torah and yirah from Yisroel. In such a situation we cannot know what will happen to us. How we can save ourselves from slipping?

What the Rambam wrote was not aimed only at that generation of shmad decrees in Yemen, but is good for all times. The Torah advises us to remember the ma'amad at Mount Sinai, "to inform others publicly of its greatness and splendor and that it was greater than any event." That exalted revelation came to strengthen our hearts and our faith in the Torah's unquestionable truth, which is impossible to change even in the slightest. By strengthening ourselves in this recognition and in the greatness of the Torah and its abundant kedushah, we have the power to resist all temptations, tests, and gezeiros. Our hearts will not deviate from Hashem and we will remain with our emunah intact as it was transmitted to us from Sinai.

Referring to this, the Ramban cites the Moreh Nevuchim: "Hashem told them not to be afraid. Since the purpose of what they saw was so that they would never slip from the path of truth, even when Hashem tests them to prove the value of their emunah and sends them a false novi to contradict what they have heard -- since they have seen the truth with their eyes."


This pertains to Divine trials for the masses in general, as well as to the individual. It includes tests to each person in his avodas Hashem whether in studying Torah despite disruptions from studying, or in tefillah when other thoughts deflect concentration, or in correct hashkofoh despite widespread confusion. It refers to withstanding all tests that today encompass each person.

The Rambam writes: "No person exists whom HaKodosh Boruch Hu does not test: the rich person is tested to see if he gives liberally to the poor, the poor person whether he willingly accepts his suffering."

Man has many Divine trials because the whole aim of the creation is to see whether he can resist temptations. The Mesillas Yeshorim (ch. 1) writes that the main reason man lives in Olam Hazeh is to fulfill mitzvos and resist temptations, since we are Hashem's servants. We lack the basic understanding that our whole raison d'etre in this world is to withstand the Divine tests. And therefore we are liable to fail. If we realize that this is our duty, it will be easier for us to be prepared and cautious and not to blunder.


What advice can we give so that we can successfully carry out our duty? We must remember that we stood at Mount Sinai and actually feel "what [y]our eyes saw." Such a feeling will strengthen us so that we will not sin and we will be able to withstand any temptations, which is the aim of man's creation.

Reflecting on and studying these principles are the fitting preparation for Shavuos. The more a person lives these truths, the more capable he will be of receiving the spiritual abundance of these days.


It is worthwhile to mention a few more important points on preparation for Torah:

Chazal (Nedorim 38), referring to prophets, write: "HaKodosh Boruch Hu makes His Shechinoh dwell only on a rich person, a mighty person, a wise person, and a modest person, and all these attributes were found in Moshe Rabbenu." Through modesty a person is zocheh to Torah. Furthermore, Chazal (Shabbos 89) teach us "R' Yehoshua ben Levi said: `When Moshe appeared before HaKodosh Boruch Hu the Satan immediately said to HaKodosh Boruch Hu "Ruler of the World! Where is the Torah?" Hashem answered: "I placed it on the earth." . . . The Satan went to Moshe and asked him where the Torah that HaKodosh Boruch Hu gave him is. Moshe answered: "Whom am I that HaKodosh Boruch Hu will give me the Torah?" HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to Moshe: "You are telling a falsehood." Moshe answered: "You have a hidden treasure that You delight in every day and I will alone take hold it only for me?" HaKodosh Boruch Hu answered: "Since you belittled yourself the Torah will be called on your name."'"

We can see that Moshe was zocheh to acquire the Torah, that it be considered his Torah (which is what is meant by "the Torah will be called on your name") only because he belittled himself, that is, that he acted modestly. Chazal tell us that divrei Torah only remain with someone who lowers himself and makes himself like a desert. Through such behavior we reach the virtue of "Yisroel camped" as "one man with one heart." Modesty is necessary to acquire Torah knowledge, and includes feeling the needs of other people and desiring to help them as we would like to help ourselves.

On the posuk "They traveled from Refidim and came to the Sinai desert," the Or HaChaim explains that the Torah wants to tell us that we cannot achieve any grasp of Torah without making a tremendous effort and overcoming laziness. "They traveled from Refidim" -- they traveled from rifyon yodayim (laziness). Chazal write on, "They fought with Yisroel in Refidim," that is means that they fought with rifyon yodayim. They now traveled away from this laziness and prepared themselves to labor in avodas Hashem so that they could worship Hashem and attain enjoyment and be zocheh to receive the Torah.

Each one of us should correctly prepare himself in all the above. Each person who does that will surely be zocheh to receive the magnificent present from HaKodosh Boruch Hu of the Torah's radiance and to receive much more than his capability or talents. The Torah will become his inheritance, his Torah.

HaRav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas LeTze'irim of Yeshivas Ponevezh and is a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Degel HaTorah.

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